What If College Were Free? Experts Say It Is Possible

An Interview With Doug Hewitt and Robin Hewitt, Authors of Free College Resource Book By Lacy Compton
Free College Resource Book
What are three tips you would give students and parents just starting the financial aid/scholarship search?

Robin: My top tip is for students and parents to use bookmarks and a computer filing system to keep track of your progress. It’s so easy to forget that one website that had the promising scholarship listings.

Doug: Get started early. The earlier, the better. And be persistent. You may lose out on your first five scholarship applications, but then you’ll strike it big on the sixth.

Robin: Don’t quit, even when you think you have enough funds for your schooling. You never know what can happen; for example, a school grant could be canceled due to lack of funding.

In today’s economy, do you think it’s easier or harder for students to find funding for college?

Robin: We’ve actually had some experience with this recently. With state budget cutbacks, one of our sons, along with many other in-state students, lost some state funding. State funding seems to have fallen on hard times, but federal sources have stepped in to fill in the gaps in many cases.

Doug: It’s more difficult, I think. Not only have some funding sources from states dried up, but there are more students in the pool looking for a college degree. With unemployment so high, many older people are looking to find other fields of employment.

What are some common misconceptions about applying for scholarships that you’d advise students and parents to avoid?

Robin: Don’t assume that because your family is middle class or you don’t have an impoverished background that you won’t qualify for financial aid. Many students and parents are surprised that they qualify.

Doug: Some students, our children included, initially scoffed at the smaller scholarships, say for $100. But those scholarships can add up in a hurry, especially when those first tuition bills roll in.

Robin: Not to mention when they see the price of textbooks!

Are there any new scholarships or financial aid programs that you find particularly exciting or worthwhile?

Robin: The recent expansion of the Pell Grant program will help more students in financial need be able to afford college. Pell grants should be first on the list for students looking for financial aid.

Doug: There are also some new programs related to Homeland Security and biomedicine that are opening up at some colleges. Because these programs are new, they want to attract students, and they do this by offering scholarships to those first few classes entering the program. We would advise that you check with local colleges for new programs offering scholarships.

What advice would you give students wishing to attend a school that has just raised tuition or is marginally more expensive than most schools (like the Ivy Leagues)? How can they make up the difference in funding if they are not offered a large financial aid package?

Robin: People have many different reasons for choosing a college, and while cost is certainly one aspect of the decision, other factors may override cost. If, for example, the school has a world-renown program in linguistics and that’s your specialty, an increase in tuition will not likely change your mind.

Doug: Yes, and I’d like to add that many schools that are more expensive will offer a larger financial aid package. Students can also find summer jobs to help defray the costs. If all else fails, student loans are usually available, although we suggest waiting until all scholarship avenues are exhausted.

Briefly, how can your book help parents and students? What makes it stand out from others on the market?

Robin: Our book helps in a lot of ways, but the first way is to help parents and students get organized in their search for college funding. The question we hear most often is, “Where do we start?” Our book not only gives you the starting point, it shows the rest of the way, too.

Doug: We’ve looked at other books on the market. Some are very detailed, but we think people get lost when the page count nears a thousand. Others give great tips but fall short. For example, one tip might be to write a good essay. But how? Our book shows you how to write the scholarship-winning essay.

Why is your expertise essential to this topic? What makes you better qualified to give this advice than others?

Robin: We’ve shown our five kids how to find their own financial sources for their secondary educations. To do that, we had to learn it ourselves first. And so we not only learned the topic, we’ve lived it.

Doug: Helping our five children has also provided us with feedback from them on the obstacles they faced. We covered these topics in our book by explaining how to overcome the inevitable roadblocks you’ll face.

Are there any particular experiences with your children that you’d like to share or that you think would be helpful to students and parents?

Robin: We told our children that they were eligible for Marine Corps scholarships because of Doug’s service record. Surprisingly, they didn’t even bother to apply at first because it didn’t seem real to them. After all, it was something their father did, not them. So keep an open mind about scholarship sources, and keep looking!

Doug: We had kept an essay one of our sons had written as a junior in high school. It was a great essay, his best by far. We showed him the essay when he began writing essays for scholarship applications. The example of what makes a great essay was a powerful lesson for him.

Robin: Don’t discount summer internship programs. Our son was just accepted to one; he’ll receive $4,500 for 11 weeks of working in the DC area, and it includes housing. The nonmonetary bonus is that he’ll be doing research in a Federal program, which will really boost his chance of getting into the graduate school of his choice.

Would you do anything differently in today’s economy than you did when you were searching for your children’s college funding?

Robin: I would be paying more attention to the news. It seems there are new laws being passed continuously that relate to college funding. Be armed by being knowledgeable!

Doug: I might put more of an emphasis on exploring ways to use a college major as a means of finding summer employment. Also, because job markets are continuously shifting, I would pay attention to the market’s employment needs of the future.

About the Authors

With five children attending institutions of higher education at no cost to them, Doug Hewitt and Robin Hewitt knew their experience at helping their children find scholarship money could help others attend college for free. Based on their personal experiences, their insights into college planning and funding sources, and their strategies for winning scholarships, they penned the Free College Resource Book. They previously have written books on parenting and grandparenting.

To read more about Free College Resource Book or to order the book, click here.